On August 28, 2013, the EEOC filed the lawsuit in the Spartanburg Division of the U.S. District Court for South Carolina against a Spartanburg transportation company on behalf of two of its employees. Both plaintiffs in the case–EEOC v. Atchison Transportation Services, Inc.–are over seventy years of age, both worked as drivers, and according to the complaint each was told by management, more or less explicitly, that he was being terminated because of his age. If true, these allegations imply that the company violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which states clearly in 29 U.S.C. § 623 that “it shall be unlawful…for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.” The plaintiffs won a settlement of $85,000, and the case was dismissed on October 2, 2014.
One plaintiff, William Thomas, claims that his Operations Manager informed him that he was terminating his employment because he was 75, although he had believed that Thomas was only 70. The same Operations Manager told Thomas that the company’s insurance policy contained a clause that did not allow anyone to drive after he or she reached the age of 75. No problems with Thomas’s performance at the job were ever discussed as part of this process.
The other plaintiff, Norris Locke, was terminated under similar conditions. Locke, a 76-year-old motor coach driver, was also told that the Defendant’s insurance carrier did not want to insure him any longer so he was terminated. Again, no performance problems were discussed.
The Commission alleges in its complaint–and the Defendant’s willingness to settle suggests it is likely true–that the insurance policy in question does not contain any age restriction for coverage.
Commenting on this case, EEOC Regional Attorney Lynette A. Barnes of the agency’s Charlotte District states that “Employers commonly make assumptions about how long persons should work before retirement, including assumptions about their ability to work based solely on age.” But “employers must be careful,” she says, ” as making such assumptions and then acting on them, can result in a violation of federal law.”
In addition to the $85,000 in monetary damages, the settlement agreement also requires Atchison Transportation to adopt new policies to avoid age discrimination in the future, to train managers and employees in the avoidance of age discrimination, to post notices about this lawsuit in its Spartanburg facility, and to report all discharges of employees over age 40 to the EEOC.
Failure-to-hire age discrimination cases tend to be more common than wrongful termination cases. There is surely no shortage of people who have lost their jobs because their employer discriminated against them because of their age. But a company trying to justify terminating an existing employee can always try to manufacture a legitimate reason based on the person’s employment history and work performance, whereas it can be more difficult to justify not having hired an older person with a far better resume. Age discrimination by employers worsens the lives of many people, but unfortunately the facts of a case are rarely as clear as in this one.
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.